Wikipedia defines CCD as "an abnormal phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a honey bee colony disappear, leaving behind a queen, plenty of food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees."
We were going through materials this week for the Celebration of Life and Legacy for UC Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, when we ran across his Oct. 9, 2007 presentation delivered as part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology's Distinguished Seminar Series.
We covered his seminar, which drew a capacity crowd and scores of questions. We still have his PowerPoint.
The news story bears repeating:
UC Davis honey bee specialist Eric Mussen fingered a line-up of prime suspects at his “BSI: The Case of the Disappearing Bees” lecture on Oct. 9, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology's Distinguished Seminar Series.
Mussen identified malnutrition, parasitic mites, infectious microbes and insecticide contamination as among the possible culprits. It's a complex issue, he said, but one thing is certain: “It seems unlikely that we will find a specific, new and different reason for why bees are dying.”
Colony collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomenon where bees mysteriously abandon their hives, is not a new occurrence, said Mussen, the Extension Apiculturist at UC Davis since 1976.
“Similar phenomena have been observed since 1869,” he said. “It persisted in 1963, 1964 and 1965 and was called Spring Dwindling, Fall Collapse and Autumn Collapse. Then in 1975, it was called Disappearing Disease.”
“But the disease wasn't what was disappearing,” Mussen quipped. “The bees were."
Massive bee die-off also occurred during the winter of 2004-05, but only those who read bee journals knew about it, Mussen told the crowd in the campus Activities Recreation Center. The latest die-off caught the attention of the national media last fall when a Pennsylvania beekeeper asked researchers at Pennsylvania State University to look at samples of his dying bees in Pennsylvania and Florida. “The local media picked up the story and the rest is history, including yours truly on the Lehrer Hour.”
One-third of America's honey bees vanished this past year due to the mysterious CCD, characterized by almost total hive abandonment. Nearly all adult worker bees unexpectedly fly away from the hive, abandoning the stored honey, pollen, larvae and pupae. Usually they leave in less than a week, and only the queen and a few young workers remain, Mussen said.
Honey bees normally do not abandon their brood, he said. “Nurse bees” continually feed the young, which increase 1,000-fold in size in six days.
“That's like an 8-pound baby weighing 4 tons in six days,” Mussen said.
Mussen, who received the American Association of Professional Apiculturists' excellence award in January for his bee industry leadership and apicultural research publications, and was named the California State Beekeepers' Association's 2006 “Beekeeper of the Year” for his industry-wide contributions, finds the silence of the bees troubling.
“The real reason bees are important is that we rely on them for crop pollination,“ he said. Commercial honey bees pollinate about 90 of the country's crops, valued at $15 billion.
“One third of our U.S. diet depends on honey bees,” Mussen said. “If bees produce fruits and vegetables somewhere else, do we (Americans) want to be as dependent on food as we are on oil?”
Bees are especially crucial to California's 600,000 acres of almonds, he said. To pollinate the almonds, growers need 1.2 million bee hives, “but California doesn't have 1.2 million bee hives, so they have to be trucked here.”
That, he said, can add to the bee stress.
Mussen linked malnutrition as a key factor in CCD. Honey bee nutrition is “weather dependent,” he said. “The best-fed bees are the healthiest, while malnourished bees are less resistant.”
Malnutrition and climate-linked issues include: Did local weather events affect pollen-producing plants negatively?
- Was there a lack of bloom (nectar and pollen) due to lack of rain or too much heat?
- Was there reduced access to flowers due to excess rain?
- Did cold nights interfere with meiosis that led to “sterile” or “non-viable” pollens?
- Do these types of pollen contain the usual proteins, vitamins, minerals and lipids required by the bees?
Mussen said that many regions in the United States experienced significant drought in 2006. “The U.S. honey crop was off 11 percent, one of the lowest on record. The California crop was off 30 percent; North and South Dakota crops were off nearly 15 and 40 percent respectively.”
If there's malnutrition in August and September, that adversely affects the winter bees, he said. A mix of quality pollens is required to rear healthy winter bees.
Unlike the California definition based on amount of water in the reservoirs, the beekeepers' definition of drought is: Is there enough soil moisture to keep the flowers growing? "This year there was not,” Mussen said.
Malnourished bees are more susceptible to disease, predators and insecticides, he pointed out. The Varroa destructor mites, introduced here in 1987 from the Asian bee (Apis cerana), spread across the country in five years, killing the American bee (Apis mellifera), known as the European bee.
Compared to fruit flies and mosquitoes, “bees have a limited immune system; they're pretty anemic,” he said.
Another problem: “Varroa mites have become resistant to most legal chemical controls that used to keep them in check.”
Mussen cast suspicion on several viruses as CCD factors: the Kashmir bee virus, acute bee paralysis virus, deformed wing virus, black queen cell virus and the Israel acute paralysis virus.
“Honey bees have about 20 known viruses, most of which can cause disease,” he said. Some viruses remain latent, just like chicken pox in humans, which can show up as shingles later in life.
USDA scientists found the Israeli acute paralysis virus, in nearly all of the CCD colonies they tested, but none in the control group. In addition, they found the Kashmir bee virus in all the CCD colonies tested.
Also found in all the CCD colonies tested were the infectious microbes Nosea ceranae and Nosema apis. N. ceranae, a relatively new fungal disease of American honey bees, was imported from the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana. N. apis, its American counterpart, has been around for at least a century.
A favorite suspect among the beekeepers is neonicotinoids, chemicals designed to mimic the toxic effects of a neurotoxin from the tobacco family. The nicotine-like insecticide kills fleas on cats and dogs, and is used as a seed treatment and in side dressing and foliar spray applications.
“The insecticides enter various plant tissues and become distributed, systemically, throughout the plant,” he said. “Nicotine is so toxic to humans that if you put a drop of pure nicotine on your finger, you're dead.”
Neonicotinoids have been formulated to be nearly non-toxic to mammals, birds, and fish but remain extremely toxic to invertebrates.
Laboratory studies showed that miniscule doses of neonicotinoids increased the rate of learning in bees, but at high doses, bees failed to respond to training.
“It wasn't memory loss; it was intoxication,” Mussen said. “They were drunk.”
Another suspect: Gaucho® (imidacloprid), used as a seed treatment on sunflowers. Beekeepers claimed that when bees visited sunflowers, they never returned to their hives; “they lost their memory.” France and Spain banned imidacloprid, but “bees are still failing in their hives,” Mussen noted.
Mussen said no scientific documentation exists to blame imidacloprid for the bee die-off. A study found only 5 parts per billion maximum in the nectar of sunflowers and canola, he said. The Bayer fact sheet indicates that the insecticide is toxic to honey bees at 192 ppb.
Among the more “quirky” explanations for CCD: cell phone usage, alien encounters, honey bee “rapture” (where hive populations “ascend to that big honeycomb in the sky en masse”); and chemtrails, aircraft-released vapors.
“Some thought chemtrails was a military-industrial complex plan to kill all children and old people — and got the bees and birds by mistake,” Mussen said.
Mussen said he hopes that the current fascination with honey bees will lead to more research and more research funding. (End of story)
(Editor's Note: Dr. Mussen, a 38-year California Cooperative Extension apiculturist and an invaluable member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, died Friday, June 3 at his home in Davis. He was 78. Attendance to the UC Davis-sponsored event celebrating his life and legacy is closed, but UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal will live-stream the event on Zoom. It will be permanently housed on YouTube. Registration for the Zoom webinar is underway at https://bit.ly/3dIyAhG. The YouTube account is at https://youtu.be/Kj5NuQ_rBuo. The webinar starts at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Aug. 28.)
He sounded the alarm.
“We need 1.6 million colonies, or two colonies per acre, and California has only about 500,000 colonies that can be used for that purpose,” said Mussen in a news release we posted Feb. 8 on the Department of Entomology website. “We need to bring in a million more colonies but due to the winter losses, we may not have enough bees.”
Those winter losses--still being tabulated--and the resulting fewer bees per hive could spell trouble for almond growers, he said.
He said 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.
“Last year was not a good year for honey production in the United States,” Mussen said, “and it could be one of the worst honey production years in the history of nation, although it’s been pretty rough in some of the previous years. Usually when we’re short of nectar, we’re short on pollen, and honey bees need both. So, 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.”
The winter of 2012-2013, in general, was bad for bees. In fact, it's never been good since the winter of 2006 with the onset of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.
Bee scientists think CCD is caused by a multitude of factors, includes, pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress. On the average, beekeepers report they're losing one-third of their bees a year.
“We don’t know how many more bees will be lost over the winter,” Mussen told us on Feb. 8. “We consider the winter ending when the weather warms up and the pollen is being brought into the hives.”
“Many, many colonies are not going to make it through the winter. We won’t have as large a bee population as in the past.”
Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976, knows honey bees. He is a honey bee guru, a global expert on bees. "Have a question about bees? Ask Eric Mussen." This month, especially, he is in great demand as a news source.
The New York Times quoted Mussen in its March 28th article, "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms."
Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.
"Where do you start?" Dr. Mussen said. "When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal leel how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?"
Experts say nobody knows.
Meanwhile, Mussen spent much of the day today granting news media interviews. On Tuesday, April 2, it will be for Dan Rather Reports: Buzzkill.
It was not so long ago that honey bees drew little attention, despite the fact that they pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. A three-letter acronym, CCD, changed all that.
Rich Schubert, a beekeeper in the Winters/Vacaville area, said it best during a question-and-answer session at Mussen's UC Davis Distinguished Seminar on Oct. 9, 2007.
If 5600 dead cows were found in a pasture, instead of 5600 dead bees, people would start paying attention, Schubert told the crowd.
So true. And now they are.
The neonicotinoid pesticides are creating quite a buzz in the bee world.
Research published this week in the Science journal zeroed in on the effects of the neonics on honey bees and bumble bees.
Science writer Eric Stokstad, in his news analysis headlined "The Field Research on Bees Raises Concern About Low-Dose Pesticides," indicated that, bottom line, more research on pesticide testing and regulation is needed.
"Five years ago, bees made headlines when a mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder decimated honey bee colonies in parts of the United States," Stokstad wrote. "Now bees are poised to be in the news again, this time because of evidence that systemic insecticides, a common way to protect crops, indirectly harm these important pollinators. Two field studies reported online this week in Science document problems. In bumble bees, exposure to one such chemical leads to a dramatic loss of queens and could help explain the insects' decline. In honey bees, another insecticide interferes with the foragers' ability to find their way back to the hive. Researchers say these findings are cause for concern and will increase pressure to improve pesticide testing and regulation."
Stokstad was referring to these two research articles published in Science:
1. Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production
2. A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees
Meanwhile, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is fielding calls about the research.
On Wednesday, Mussen talked to science writer Eryn Brown of the Los Angeles Times.
Here's her quote from her news story:
“There are a whole lot of things that stress the honeybees,” said Eric Mussen, a honeybee specialist at the University of California, Davis. “You can’t point your finger at one thing and say, ‘That is the problem.’ ”
Mussen cautioned against singling out neonicotinoids when other pesticides could have similar effects on bees. Besides, he said, many insects have built up immunity to neonicotinoids, so farmers are likely to switch to different pesticides anyway.
As Mussen has been saying all along, the declining bee population is due to a number of factors: pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress.
So, there's no silver bullet--no major culprit--that's causing the declining bee population. It's a multitude of factors. Scientists continue to investigate them all.
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen talks a lot about the declining honey bee population.
After all, he's served as the Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976.
Over the last several weeks, however, he's been fielding scores of phone calls from the news media and delivering presentations to various groups. Last Tuesday, he addressed the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Pollinator Workshop in Woodland.
This morning he discussed bee health with a news team from KGO Radio, San Francisco.
Everyone wants to know how the bees are. Just as we greet folks daily with "How are you?" Mussen hears a daily "How are the bees?"
So, when the KGO news team telephoned him at 7 this morning, Mussen knew the topic: Bee health.
"Are we making any progress to finding out what causes colony collapse disorder (CCD)?" Mussen was asked.
CCD is a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive.
"I think things are a little bit better...but we don’t know what causes CCD," Mussen told KGO. "And what the beekeepers have found, however, is that malnutrition seems to be pretty important. One beekeeper told me that $45 invested in food for the bees--artificial food, you know because we can’t really substitute for pollen--made his bees considerably better.
"And the second thing they’re finding is that it seems to go in a two-year cycle. The young colonies don’t seem to have that so much of a problem but the second year ones do, so now what they’re doing is breaking those second-year colonies down into smaller ones starting them over again and keeping them young and that helps too."
Mussen believes that CCD is linked to multiple factors, including parasites, pesticides, diseases, malnutrition and stress. The end result: a compromised or weakened immune system.
Some folks finger a class of pesticides, the nicotine-based neonicotinoids, as "the cause" of CCD. Not "the cause," says Mussen.
When the KGO news team quizzed him about this systematic pesticide--how France banned it and then "saw a return of the bees within a year"--Mussen responded: "Well, by the same token, there were some researchers in France that took sugar syrup and laced it with sublethal doses of the particular chemical you’re talking about and fed it to the bees all year and those bees were fine that year, through the winter and then into the next spring."
At Tuesday's meeting in Woodland, Mussen cautioned that adjuvants (materials added by a pesticide applicator to a product "to make it work better") may be causing brood and queen-bee rearing problems. "Adjuvants--especially the organosilicone 'superspreaders'--seem to make non-toxic fungicides toxic to honey bee brood," Mussen said. 'These superspreaders can penetrate the waxy cuticle on Eucalyptus leaves. And the No. 1 bee protection is their waxy cuticle."
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation demand acute toxicity tests before a pesticide is marketed, still there are concerns, Mussen told the Woodland crowd. For one, the contact/ingestion studies last only 48 hours and "that's too short of a time period" to see what happens to the bees. "Sublethal effects are not required, chronic exposure to sublethal doses is not required, and synergism is not studied," he said.
Look for him to expand on the issue in his next from the UC Apiaries newsletter, available free on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist and a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, is quoted in a Dec. 6 article in the Epoch Times about colony collapse disorder (CCD).
CCD is the mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood, and food stores.
The gist of the Epoch Times article: The European Commission recently published its concerns about honey bee health.
In a communiqué, the commission sought to clarify the key issues related to bee health and key actions that it intends to take to address them.
"Beekeeping is a widely-developed activity in the European Union (EU), both at professional (keepers with over 150 hives) and hobby level," the communiqué began. "There are around 700,000 beekeepers in the EU out of which around 97% are non-professional accounting for around 67% of EU hives. Honey production is estimated to be close to 200,000 tons. Beekeeping is also associated with the production of other products such as wax, royal jelly, propolis, etc."
Epoch Times reporter Marco 't Hoen subsequently sought out Mussen for information on CCD and honey bee health in the United States. Mussen told him that CCD is a worldwide problem.
Twenty-five percent of beekeepers in the United States have recurring problems with CCD, Mussen said. The colonies range in size from one to 15,000.
Wrote the reporter: "He (Mussen) believes that in the U.S., CCD is caused by an infectious disease, which they have not yet identified. His reasoning is based on the fact that when bees are introduced to replace the dead one, they die as well. But when the hive is cleaned properly the new bees can survive."
Indeed, CCD is linked to multiple causes, including diseases, pests, pesticides, malnutrition and stress. Weakened colonies don't fare well.
The Epoch Times article quoted USDA statistics indicating that bee pollination of crops "is worth $15 billion per year" in the United States. For example, "the almond industry in California alone used about half of the 2.3 million colonies in the country in 2009 for pollination." In the European Union, about 700,000 beekeepers maintain almost 14 million colonies, according to the EC communiqué.
As an aside, U.S. beekeepers are now gearing up for the California almond season, which usually starts around Feb. 1. The state has more than 700,000 acres of almonds and each acre requires two hives for pollination. Since California doesn't have that many bees, bees are trucked here from all over the country.
It's a gold rush of sorts in the Golden State.
California, here we come!